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It is an unfortunate fact that the Middle East is plagued by all kinds of security threats, making it among the less safe regions in the world.
These threats arise basically from unresolved conflicts over territories and resources and from worsening economic situations resulting from debt, poverty and unemployment. Other causes leading to security threats can be the absence of democracies predicated on political pluralism, the existence of extremist ideologies seeking to undermine the rule of law, and, naturally, the widespread escalation of conventional military hardware and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery systems - the latter further aggravated by the proliferation of potential suppliers.
This paper aims to highlight the impact of weapons proliferation on stability in the Middle East, and attempts to put forward a security structure that can enhance regional balance in the future.
Theoretically, the possession of certain types or quantities of WMD undermines security. In the event of a crisis, some leaders might find it tempting to use such weapons, or an abrupt change of government might leave those weapons in less responsible and reliable hands. Furthermore, the perception of one's military superiority and the possession of WMD could easily influence and even justify decisions by governments to resort to armed conflicts as a means of resolving pending regional problems. But most importantly, a nation that produces and possesses those weapons, even if it has no intention of using them, heightens anxiety among its neighbors and adversaries.
The possession of weapons should be viewed, therefore, as a problem necessitating the establishment of institutionalized mechanisms to restrain the dissemination of and access to potentially dangerous weapons technologies. Weapons control should thus strive to develop criteria and standards that guide policy across nations and over time in a consistent and uniform manner (Kellman, B., Theory on Weapons Control, 1995).

Israeli Military Capabilities

Israel's nuclear capability and ambiguous nuclear policy represent a driving force for the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other WMD in the region. This strategic capability compelled a number of regional states to declare that some form of an "in-kind" deterrence should be developed or acquired.
In addition, Israel's tactical capabilities and technological superiority - especially in air power and command, communications, computers, intelligence and electronic warfare (C4IEW), have also accelerated the acquisition and production process by other states in the region of sophisticated conventional weapons and surface-to-surface missiles, that may be used as an alternative deterrent for WMD.
These processes and trends are likely to continue as more arms deals have been and are being concluded. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries bought nearly half the $40 billion worth of weapons sold abroad during 1996 (The Jerusalem Post, October 15, 1997; IISS Report, London). Those funds could have been better spent on socioeconomic development where they are desperately needed.
In terms of strategic objectives, this conventional arms race firstly needs to be checked, and, secondly, WMD and their delivery means must be eliminated from the region. That said, however, a major problem remains: how best to achieve these objectives? Through what process? Under what conditions and criteria? And according to what timetable?
It is of the essence, therefore, that these questions and perhaps many more be addressed in order to promote educational and consensus-building efforts regarding arms control issues as well as the spread of WMD.

Weapons Control and Regional Stability

Weapons control and disarmament negotiations are essential components of international diplomacy. If successful, they can enhance regional stability through the reduction of military threats and the risk of war. Further, such negotiations can decelerate the regional arms race, stabilize military balances among states, and reduce fear and tensions between adversaries.
Arms control measures would, thus, encourage states to resort to peaceful means to resolve or manage conflicts, and would allow them, instead, to conserve the badly needed resources for economic and social development through the reduction of military expenditures.
Such means will, ultimately, create confidence, minimize suspicion, and promote better understanding among states. One effect of the Gulf crisis, for example, has been the emergence of calls for "new" approaches to long-standing Middle East questions. "New security structures," "new regional order" and "new thinking" in the Middle East have become increasingly familiar terms. At the end of both world wars, parallel sentiments for a new world order emerged. However, as the history of this century attests, blueprints did not always work in such cases. The Middle East must strive to avoid a similar outcome (address by HRH Prince Hassan bin-Talal of Jordan to RUSI, London, December 1996).

Future Regional Security Arrangements

The security of the region is the responsibility of the states living in it. The establishment of a regional security structure is therefore essential to complement - not replace - bilateral and multilateral security arrangements among states in the region.
The experience of other areas in the world shows that success in security arrangements is a result of hard work and careful adherence to regional and international norms. It is also important to take into consideration the needs of other states in the region to ensure that a process is established and stays on track.
No two regions or situations are the same. The design of cooperative work and its division of labor must adjust to the realities of each case with flexibility and creativity. The Asia-Pacific region, for example, was offered the European model and declined it as being partially successful, too institutionalized, too firmly grounded in common norms and values, and overly ambitious.
Ultimately the impetus for establishing a regional security regime must come from within the region itself. However, outside powers can be helpful and, in some instances, are even essential. The United States, in particular, could, with the support of the European Union, play a vital role in this domain.
Finally, any sub-regional or regional security arrangements must be based on an acceptable set of principles, such as:
* Each state has the right to self-defense;
* Each state has the right to live in peace without fear of aggression; there can be no security without peace and no peace without security;
* All need to feel secure, free of the fear of acts of terror;
* States have to appreciate that peace and security are not zero-sum, but mutually reinforcing; and finally,
* No state should seek hegemony over any other state in the region.

Conclusion

According to a study on the security considerations of the states in the Middle East, the authorities of the states concerned perceive the existence and the danger of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as a growing threat. Although the modalities suggested for overcoming that threat reveal differences among these states, the various authorities, nonetheless, share a common view regarding the necessity of dealing with the threat within the context of a Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East (a study by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, 1996).
In the context of a comprehensive, lasting and stable peace, characterized by the renunciation of the use of force, and by reconciliation and goodwill, both Jordan and Israel are committed to work jointly "towards establishing a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, both conventional and non-conventional" (Article 4, Par. 7b of the Jordan-Israel Treaty of Peace).
In a similar vein, Mr. David Levy, Israel's prime minister, in his address to the 52nd session of the UN General Assembly on September 29, 1997, stated that: "After the establishment of peace treaties between Israel and every country of the region, it will be possible to bring about the establishment of a regional security system, which would provide multilateral and shared solutions to the range of security problems in the Middle East, including a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East, of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles."
Meanwhile, there is a real need for a holistic approach to security to encompass the political, economic, environmental, social and spiritual dimensions in the region. Such conceptualization would be vital for regional stability, cooperation and eventual integration. The chance now exists to make order out of potential chaos arising from the unpredictability and uncertainty of future developments. Clearly, an on-going dialogue - or what is called Track II diplomacy - can help to counter all causes of instability in the region. And, as has always been emphasized, "Dialogue might not solve all problems, but it is impossible to solve any problem without dialogue."

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